Krishna Dancing on Kaliya (Kalyahimarddka Krishna)

India, Tamil Nadu
Chola period, late 10th- early 11th century
Copper alloy
H. 34 1/2 in. (87.6 cm); 1979.22

See a Quicktime video of this object

Download Quicktime

Artist Comments

Bjorn Amelan and Bill T. Jones

In the entire pantheon of Hindu deities, Vishnu, in his incarnation as the avatar Krishna, most flamboyantly represents divine charm and attractiveness. Be he the adorably mischievous tyke stealing his mother's clarified butter, the supreme lover capable of engaging every woman-married or not-in his village, or as he is represented here, Kaliyahimarddaka dancing on one of the heads of a monstrous, poisonous serpent-he personifies the childlike glee, sensuality, and charismatic accessibility of all great performers.

In this Chola-period rendering of the avatar, every element lends itself to seduction. His moon-shaped face, framed by divine ears, though somewhat mask-like, possesses full, pouty lips that are slightly parted with delight in his dancing. Flawless skin covers his broad shouldered torso. His dance on Kaliya's head is obviously rhythmical, sprightly, brimming with that insouciance and wit that star performers use to capture and hold their audience. His right foot, gracefully pointed as it leaves the serpent's head, produces a provocative lifting of his hip and an eye catching bunching of the soft flesh round his middle. This divine entertainer is male/female, child and man. His impudent little penis keeps its own time in stark contrast to the muscular sinuous rhythm of the snake's tail held elegantly as if it were a musical instrument.

Hindu tradition has it that even the most hideous monster is gratified to be chastised or killed by the seductive god as its soul is immediately freed from the endless cycle of birth and death and achieves cosmic consciousness. Witnessing this performance, one can only envy the vanquished snake.